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UK at ‘tipping point’ in coronavirus battle as millions face being banned from mixing

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The UK is at a tipping point in the battle against coronavirus similar to the one faced in March, one of the the country’s top scientists has said.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam warned more deaths will follow the rise in cases in recent weeks.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows an estimated 224,000 people have the virus and hospital and intensive care admissions from Covid-19 rising.


It comes as millions of people could be banned from mixing indoors and outdoors and thousands of pubs forced to close under new coronavirus restrictions due to be announced on Monday.

Prof Van-Tam said the R number – the rate at which the virus is spreading from person to person – was well above one in every NHS region in England, suggesting “widespread transmission” across the country – not just the north.

Scientists estimate that the doubling time in the UK for new infections is between eight and 16 days and is even faster in some areas, he added.

However he insisted history can still be prevented from repeating itself.

He said the best way to keep transmission low and stop the NHS being overwhelmed was for people to follow self-isolation guidance, wash their hands, wear face coverings and social distance.

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Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam (10 Downing Street/AFP via Getty)

He said: “In our national fight against Covid-19, we are at a tipping point similar to where we were in March; but we can prevent history repeating itself if we all act now.

“Earlier in the year, we were fighting a semi-invisible disease, about which we had little knowledge, and it seeded in the community at great speed.

“Now we know where it is and how to tackle it – let’s grasp this opportunity and prevent history from repeating itself.”

Prof Van-Tam said the country had much better testing capabilities, knew more about the disease, and had better treatments than during the first wave.

Coronavirus in numbers: UK death toll rises to 42,760

But he added that while during the winter months the NHS will “work their socks off” to help people, there was only so much they can do.

He said that elective surgeries and non-urgent services, cancer treatment, diagnostic and mental health services needed to keep going for as long as possible, and people need to come forward for that care when they need it.

But in order to help the NHS, people need to help keep case numbers down, he added.

He said: “If cases rise dramatically the NHS will need to focus more on dealing with the life-threatening situations immediately in front of them; this can mean freeing up staff and space by postponing other non-urgent procedures and treatments.

“We need to help the NHS by keeping Covid-19 numbers low; and in turn the NHS will be there for us, our families and loved ones.

“By keeping our contacts low we reduce the number of opportunities for the virus to spread.

“I know this is very hard, but it is an unfortunate scientific fact that the virus thrives on humans making social contact with one another.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to outline a new three-tiered system of restrictions with measures expected to force pubs and restaurants shut across the north of England.

Reports suggest under the top tier no household mixing will be allowed either, which could affect millions of people living in areas with high Covid-19 rates across England.

Leaders across northern England have criticised the plans, accusing the Government of failing to provide adequate financial support and treating the region as “second-class”.

But the Sunday Times reported ministers were drawing up proposals to give town halls more powers over the test and trace system to try to secure their support.

The number of people in hospital with coronavirus increased across every part of England on Saturday – rising to 1,167 in the north west from 725 previous week.

A further 15,166 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK were reported on Saturday, and 81 more deaths were confirmed of people who died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.

Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies show there have now been 58,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

Additional reporting by PA Media

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